The team hopes to create a vaccine that does not contain the viral genome but instead mimics the structure of the live virus. Such a vaccine would be quicker, easier and safer to produce.

"Using a combination of techniques, we've begun the task of gathering crystal structures and electron microscopy images that will tell us what we need to know to stabilise the shell of the virus and engineer a strong vaccine that has the ability to bring about the desired immune response in humans," said Dave Stuart, professor of structural biology at Oxford University.

Even after the apparent global elimination of poliomyelitis it will be necessary to continue vaccination as a precaution against re-introduction of the virus from hidden sources.

A synthetic vaccine would fulfil this role without the inherent danger of accidental release of virus associated with the production of current vaccines. Eventually such vaccines could pave the way to completely eliminating the necessity to vaccinate.

"Early results with polio are very promising, with synthetic particles being produced and evidence of successful stabilisation," Stuart said while speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose recently.


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